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Go to the woods... the mysterious magic of Monza!

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F1 Mole | 16:06 UK time, Saturday, 12 September 2009

The journey through Milan's beige industrial suburbs accompanied by the chug of disgruntled traffic was not exactly the most auspicious start for the Mole's first visit to the fabled Monza circuit.

But once the car turned into the gates of the royal park, the landscape completely changed and all the talk about the magic of Monza suddenly made sense.

So, this is why the Milan Automobile Club defied conservationists in 1922 to build a track in the middle of a wood. This is why Italians call it "La Pista Magica" - the magic track - and why Ferrari's tifosi flock to see the majestic red cars fly round the fastest circuit in F1.

It is hard not to feel a sense of time and space, past and present becoming blurred under the camouflage of the trees.

Giancarlo Fisichella glides through woods which surround the Monza circuitFerrari's Giancarlo Fisichella glides over a Monza circuit which carves through woods near Milan

Unlike the open expanse of Melbourne's Albert Park, which provides the backdrop for the Australian GP, Monza's park is wooded and its more than three-and-a-half miles of asphalt are buried among the trees.

Cycle paths weave through the dusty, leaf-strewn ground and after a while the sight of fans pedalling with large Ferrari flags billowing behind them no longer comes as a surprise.

After all, this is a place of pilgrimage for fans of Ferrari, who have won the Italian Grand Prix here 17 times.

"Monza has been in Formula 1 since 1950, it has so much history and many world champions," said Francesco, from Tuscany, in proud tones.

"My father taught me to love Ferrari, I have taught my son and we are all here. It is an honour and a pleasure."

A group of Kimi Raikkonen supporters were so keen to spot a flash of red flying by that they had constructed a tent against the mesh of the fence at the foot of the Ascari grandstand. It probably seemed like a good idea until a storm broke through the trees on Friday evening.

This circuit and the fans go hand-in-hand like no other stop on the F1 circuit and, decked out in red with scarlet hair and painted faces, the tifosi certainly make their presence felt.

"Ferrari is a magic symbol for Italy," explains Signor Setta from Milan. "All our heart is only for Ferrari. It is impossible not to love them."

Away from the Scuderia merchandise stands and the treasure troves of tempting memorabilia stalls lie real relics of Monza's history and the deeper into the woods you go, the larger history looms.

The remains of the famous high-banked oval track still stand beside the current grand prix track, which is flatter but no less furious.

The oval was built in 1955 but was abandoned just six years later after too many drivers questioned the safety of powering around its steep walls. Clambering up the 65-degree slope of the curve, the idea of driving around it seems gravity-defying never mind absurdly dangerous.

It was Wolfgang von Trips' fatal crash in 1961 on the approach to Parabolica on the flat track, in which 14 spectators also died, which prompted the oval to be closed for good.

Even without the oval, Monza holds the grizzly record of causing more fatalities than any other grand prix circuit.

Alberto Ascari, Jochen Rindt and Ronnie Peterson (left to right)Alberto Ascari, Jochen Rindt and Ronnie Peterson (left to right) lost their lives at Monza

Ferrari's two-time champion Alberto Ascari, the posthumous 1970 world champion Jochen Rindt and 1970s legend Ronnie Peterson are just some of those who lost their lives here.

Some say you can hear the ghosts moving still between the trees. Such eerie tales may be far-fetched but F1 history and fate have never seemed more tangible than when you are deep in Monza's woods.


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